Tell me about your job at a college or university
August 14, 2008 2:38 PM   Subscribe

Tell me about your (non-teaching) job at a US college or university!

Specific things I'm wondering:

- Do you work full-time, part-time, overtime?
- Do you receive the benefit of taking classes for free?
- Are you able to avail yourself of that benefit?
- What was your training/history that enabled you to get your position?
- Do you work year-round, or only when school is in session (e.g. is August off, or spring break)?
- Do you know what background/training can lead to positions in admissions or academic advising?
posted by misoramen to Work & Money (26 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Are you gathering data for a thing? I'd answer your question, but it sounds like you're collecting data for a thing, and in the interest of full disclosure, I'd like to know what it is before I tell you my business.
posted by phunniemee at 2:47 PM on August 14, 2008

If you are doing a survey create one at SurveyMonkey and we can fill that.
posted by WizKid at 2:53 PM on August 14, 2008

Response by poster: Not a survey, not data... I was just hoping to get answers that didn't rule out working in IT or the AV department or the cafeteria or a dean's office or any particular possibility.

I'm asking because it's always been a fantasy of mine to work at a college. It would be a career change, so I could conceivably come at it from any angle. So part of what I'm asking is about the reality of working at a college in general (specifically: Are you able to take classes, or not? Is August off, or not?), and the other part is about what kind of background I'd need in order to take advantage of such a position.

Hope that helps.
posted by misoramen at 2:58 PM on August 14, 2008

Response by poster: It's a sockpuppet account.
posted by misoramen at 2:59 PM on August 14, 2008

Many of your questions ('Are you able to take classes?') depend a great deal on the specific college you're applying to work at. This post is far too broad-ranging to provide you with useful information. You'll have better luck asking in your local community for help and advice in applying for a job at schools in your locale.
posted by ardgedee at 3:04 PM on August 14, 2008

Best answer: I work full-time, tuition is reduced, yes, previous (administrative) work at another college, year-round and somewhat. A wide variety of experience can lead someone to admissions or advising. Counseling, volunteer, administrative and direct experience as a student intern all come to mind.

If you narrow down the types of colleges or universities (large, small, public, private, undergrad-only, liberal arts, etc) you may get more focused answers. It sounds like you're looking for an advising position, keep in mind there are many non-teaching (staff, rather than faculty) jobs in higher ed. Non-teaching positions can be everything from lab manager to cook to fire fighter. Just about any job or career can lead you to work in higher ed. Though there are many reasons to work at a college or university, you'll usually be working for less money than in the corporate world.
posted by annaramma at 3:08 PM on August 14, 2008

Best answer: I'm in the Communications department of a West Coast liberal arts school. I could technically petition classes but I haven't bothered because most are during the day when I'm working. Hours are typical 8-5. My position is year-round. Not all are.

Benefits: Lovely campus, amazing amount of vacation/sick time, working with and around smart people, taking advantage of campus amenities, campus events like lectures and such, relaxed environment, great education benefits for kids/spouses/you. I'm not sure all schools have such generous benefits.

I got my job because my real-world, corporate experience matched the qualifications needed for the position. I've never worked in an academic or non-profit environment before. It's definitely a different world. It's slow-paced, but comfortable. I feel safe because where I work is not at the whims of the economy or ad sales or poor management.

E-mail my account name at gmail if you want more in-depth information.
posted by faunafrailty at 3:10 PM on August 14, 2008

Speaking from the college I went to, the staff did get free tuition, and so did their children, though I believe they still had to pay the fees (student activity fee, and stuff like that). The staff usually got time off when the university was closed, but not always. For example, the food service staff still worked over spring break, though shorter hours. They also worked through most of winter break, except the week of Christmas, that kind of thing. Since there were summer classes going on, academic offices and their staff were still usually working.

Sorry, I'm not super helpful. Like someone else said, it will all depend on the college/university you want to work at.
posted by at 3:11 PM on August 14, 2008

Many colleges and universities offer free or reduced tuition for employees, you can easily check the HR site for the particular school you're interested in working at. Some schools offer a masters in student affairs (or the like) that can certainly help you get a gig as an advisor or other administrative positions at the upper university level. But, like most positions it's experience that matters most, so internships are helpful and can open a lot of doors for you.
posted by Craig at 3:14 PM on August 14, 2008

"sockpuppet account": IOW, you wanted to ask anon, but made up another acct instead? (I'm assuming to be able to ask followup questions?)

On a practical note, if there are particular institutions you're interested in working at, I'd go to their HR department's website. For everything other than background/training-type stuff, it should be in their policies, or even in job posts. Like jobs in any other industry, benefits vary quite a bit by institution, and higher education is a diverse group of institutions. (4-year vs 2-year, liberal arts vs Big Name State, private vs public, etc., etc.)
posted by epersonae at 3:24 PM on August 14, 2008

Best answer: I'm an academic advisor.
-I work full time.
-I could take classes for an incredibly reduced price.
-I do not take classes as I've been reluctant to extend my work hours to accommodate the time in class, and because when I got my bachelor’s, I was done with college.
-I have a bachelor’s in education, which helped. I had also worked in the department as a student worker, so I was a known factor.
-I work all year. June is very busy with freshman orientation, for instance.
-Academic advisors at my employer tend to have a background in either education, or in the field they are going to advise.
posted by Squeak Attack at 3:25 PM on August 14, 2008

Best answer: Also, in my higher ed experience (community college, I'm not there anymore), it was a full-time "administrative exempt" (no overtime) job, year-round (August was...weird), IIRC no free classes, but I think non-exempt union staff could take classes for a nominal fee. Although we did get discounts on "continuing education" classes, so I took yoga at lunchtime for a while.

My work is the kind of thing that can be done in almost any kind of industry (web design/development/etc), I just happened to apply for a job at a college. In my case, it was part of a large public bureaucracy, so slow, overworked and low-paid, but secure and decent benefits. As in my previous comment, YMMV significantly.
posted by epersonae at 3:32 PM on August 14, 2008

Best answer: I work in HR at a large, public university.

- I work full-time. There are part-time jobs available, and some jobs (especially in the academic departments) require overtime during peak periods, such as the beginning/ends of semesters, and during registration. There are a lot of jobs in research units or just regular support departments (parking, IT, food service, payroll) that don't require much overtime. Overtime is almost given as time off/comp time instead of pay.

- All full-time employees are allowed to take one free class per semester, but they must apply and be admitted to the University.

- I have taken a few classes.

- A BA from the University, and luck. It can be very difficult to apply "from the outside".

- We work year-round. We do get about 2 weeks paid time off at Christmas, in addition to paid vacation.

- At my university, to be an advisor you must have previous experience advising students in some capacity. A lot of people work in the advising offices as students and then move into the entry-level positions when they graduate.
posted by donajo at 3:40 PM on August 14, 2008

Best answer: I am allowed to take classes for a nominal fee (ranging from $40 to $400 depending on the school), but whether I'm able is another question. I've done it for two semesters now, but am considering not doing it the next semester -- it really eats in to your downtime on the weekends.

I do not have August off, but we are encouraged to take our vacations during that time, as things are fairly slow.

At the institution I work at, temping for a while seems to be the most surefire way of getting a permanent position.
posted by AwkwardPause at 3:45 PM on August 14, 2008

Response by poster: epersonae, as you can see, the ability to write follow-ups has been useful. But I actually started the account a few months ago in preparation for asking a whole series of personal things (career change, illness) that I wanted to keep separate from my other name, which by now has a lot of background and local details in it.
posted by misoramen at 3:46 PM on August 14, 2008

Best answer: I worked at a university for about five years. My partner has worked at one for nearly 15. I was a full-time staff member in the psychology department, coordinating professors' research. I was paid hourly for the first couple of years and rarely worked overtime, then moved to a different lab where I was salaried and did sometimes work overtime in a crunch. My partner works in computing services; he's salaried and works really variable hours, sometimes lots of overtime, sometimes not.

I did take classes for free. I think there was something like a 6-month waiting period for new hires to get free tuition, but I'm sure the policy details vary by university. I think my partner took some classes his first few years, but that was before we met.

I was a cognitive science major, and had done some part-time undergraduate work in a research lab (though that work was only tangentially related to psychology). It was more having some knowledge of research than any exact classwork that got me my first position. My partner had been an undergraduate at the school with a part-time job in computing services, and then had to drop out so he was promoted to full-time and climbed the ranks the hard way without the degree.

I worked year-round. In research, summer was my slow time, with students gone. For my partner, who works in a computing services department at a university, summer is his crazy busy time getting ready for the new school year.
posted by Stacey at 4:15 PM on August 14, 2008

Best answer: I work full-time as an office manager in the library of my large public university. There is very occasional overtime (not more than a few days per year).

There is a small tuition refund program: up to 75% of the tuition, up to $1100 per year. This is tuition only - no lab fees, no registration fees, no textbooks - and this amount of money covers maybe one three-credit course at my university.

I have only used the tuition benefit to take evening classes at the local community college, as my manager gets pissy if I'm gone during the business day.

I have a BA and (when promoted into my current position) 11 years experience in the service we offer. I also have an MLIS but it's not required for my position - in fact, it's pretty much overkill.

We work year-round, even during spring break. Vacation periods are often the hardest on our staff, as we have the same amount of work to do but no student help. Our building is closed between Christmas and New Year's, so we get time off then. I earn two days of vacation for every month I work, and can bank up to 48 days worth. I usually have at least 20 days banked as it's almost impossible for me to get away for long without our service going to hell.
posted by shiny blue object at 4:55 PM on August 14, 2008

Best answer: I work at a large Research institution in the Southeastern US. My work is at a research center on campus where I manage projects related to grant funding the center has received.

- Do you work full-time, part-time, overtime?
I generally work full time ~40 hours a week. During some particularly crazy times like end of projects, I may work over time, but during some less crazy times I can occasionally get away with 35 hours of work if I've got other things in my life to deal with (repair men coming, running errands, etc.) I generally try to get it to average out to 40 hours a week.

- Do you receive the benefit of taking classes for free?
I can take classes approved by my supervisor for free. This means that the class must be related somehow to my work. For non-related classes, I think I have to pay fees but not tuition (I'm not 100% sure about this though because I've never inquired about this)

- Are you able to avail yourself of that benefit?
I tried a couple of times but ended up dropping the classes because it can be difficult to fit in class time with my work responsibilities. Also I've found that since finishing school and starting work, I've lost the student mindset. Just as I have no patience for people that ramble on in meetings, I've lost patience for sitting in a class while an instructor rambles on about things not related to the material covered in the course.

- What was your training/history that enabled you to get your position?
I have a master's degree. While my center does hire people with bachelor degrees, most positions beyond the basic entry level ones require a graduate degree.

- Do you work year-round, or only when school is in session (e.g. is August off, or spring break)?
Since our work is not dependent on student interactions we work independently of the academic schedule. We get state and federal holidays off.

- Do you know what background/training can lead to positions in admissions or academic advising?
Can't help you here, but I would guess HR, Social Work, Education might do it. I'd suggest doing some searches at University web sites to see what they're asking for.

In my experience the best thing about working for a university is the relaxed work environment, the interesting work, and the energy that's associated with being around students. Another plus would be my colleagues. Over the course of working at 3 different Universities, I've found the people I've worked with to generally be smart, creative and interesting people.

The negatives are (relatively) low pay -- you can usually make more money in the private sector, a certain amount of petty politics (though that probably exists everywhere) and if you're on soft money your job can disappear when the grant is over. Also it can be difficult to fire the dead wood, or dysfunctional staff, especially at public universities, so if a personality conflict arises it can be a nightmare to resolve.
posted by cptspalding at 5:16 PM on August 14, 2008

Best answer: This is based on a medium-sized private university in the US. Like others have said, every school is different. I have worked at several universities and have other friends who have or are currently working at universities different than my own. Each school does their own thing, though you might find some overlap.

Do you work full-time, part-time, overtime?
Full time, overtime was not paid but I was fine with working it. It happened more often than I expected because we were under-staffed.

Do you receive the benefit of taking classes for free?
Yes, and no. As others have mentioned, there was a fee and a waiting period, but the big kicker is something you'll experience anywhere with a "tuition benefit." You get taxed on that income after a certain benefit amount each year, so my paychecks when I was in school (six credits a semester, three semesters a year at a private institution) were roughly half of what they had been. I applied for loans to bridge the gap and keep paying rent. So...yes, it was "free" in that I did not pay the university very much (maybe $500 year in fees plus books and other expenses), but overall it cost me a ton of money to get the degree because of the tax implications and my student loans. My total costs were about 1/3 to 1/2 of what it would have cost "street value" so I still came out ahead.

Are you able to avail yourself of that benefit?
See above. I had to take the qualifying exams, then apply and be accepted like everyone else. Frankly, it sucked. All I did was work and go to school and it felt like I never got a break from either because I would leave my office and walk across the quad to sit in class all night. Then I was there on the weekends doing school work too. The only time I was not on campus was when I was out of town. I am glad to have my degree but would not really recommend my experience to people that have other options. I was jealous of my classmates that had jobs outside of the university, for example. Also you could only really take night classes and if you wanted to take a daytime class there was a whole appeal process you had to undergo.

What was your training/history that enabled you to get your position?
I had a BS and work experience in my functional (non-teaching) area.

Do you work year-round, or only when school is in session (e.g. is August off, or spring break)?
Year round. I don't think I knew anyone that only worked during the traditional academic year.

Do you know what background/training can lead to positions in admissions or academic advising?
The academic advisers I knew all had backgrounds in counseling and/or education (like Masters degrees in those areas). The other option was to start as an advising assistant (generally entry level) and work your way up. The admissions advisers usually had the same backgrounds and most had Masters degrees (but not all). There was also some opportunity in admissions for people that had a background in marketing, sales, public relations, etc. It sort of depends on whether you are interested in graduate or undergraduate admissions. I found that undergrad admissions officers didn't really need any particular credentials (other than an undergrad degree and the ability to connect with others, sell the school, etc) but the graduate admissions officers tended to. This is a broad statement and I am sure there are exceptions, but it has been my observation that schools tend to hire their own alums for the undergraduate admissions positions.

On a related note, I agree 100% with cptspaulding's last two paragraphs and would add that the other benefits like retirement and vacation tend to be better in higher ed than in the corporate world.
posted by ml98tu at 6:09 PM on August 14, 2008

Best answer: I work as a development officer for a small, respected graduate school in Washington, DC

- Do you work full-time, part-time, overtime?

I work full time. If it strikes me and I have something to do, I will go on Sundays for a couple hours.

- Do you receive the benefit of taking classes for free?

Yes, after 90 days, I can take classes for free minus fees and books. My partner, should I ever get one, can take up to eight semesters.

- Are you able to avail yourself of that benefit?

Once I choose which graduate test to take, I will take the benefit. I see my entry back to academia in the Spring of 2009.

- What was your training/history that enabled you to get your position?

I did a lot of fundraising in my last position. Although it was not part of my original job description, I came to enjoy it a lot.

- Do you work year-round, or only when school is in session (e.g. is August off, or spring break)?

There is no time off in fundraising. We receive 15 days off and holidays each year. But alumni and fund development officers and staff work all year.

- Do you know what background/training can lead to positions in admissions or academic advising?

A very good program in admissions is available at the Graduate School of Education and Human Development at the George Washington University. I think the program is called Higher Education Administration. There is both an MA and Ed.D. program. I don't know for sure, but check it out.
posted by parmanparman at 9:03 PM on August 14, 2008

Best answer: I used to work at a University in several admin staff type positions in academic units.

- I worked full time. I did work some overtime and was required to travel overnight for work once in awhile.
- My school offered $1 a credit hour tuition, even for graduate level classes.
- I completed 25% of my grad school degree this way. I took classes during my lunch break, in the evenings and online. It was a challenge to fit classes into my work schedule, so it was hard to really use the benefit.
- I had a BA and similar previous experience in the corporate workforce.
- I worked year round, but did get Dec24-Jan1 off for holiday break.
posted by pluckysparrow at 9:50 PM on August 14, 2008

Best answer: - Full time. I'm salaried, so overtime is not an option for me.
- I can get a tuition waiver to cover the tuition portion, but I still have to pay university fees, which - when I paid to take a class a few years ago - was about $400 a semester. After some number of years I'm also eligible for tuition waivers for my dependents. I don't know how many years it is, because I don't have any dependents so it doesn't matter to me.
- I took one class for credit and paid for the fees, then the next year I had enough of a relationship with the professor that he allowed me to audit it for free. I also had to get permission from my supervisor to take a class during the work day.
- I'm a study abroad advisor. I studied abroad when I was in college, worked in a study abroad office in graduate school and started this position basically as entry-level. My graduate degree is only tangentially related to what I do now.
- I work year-round, but I get 22 vacation days a year. Some other staff at the university have 9-11 month contracts, though.
- I'm not sure about academic advising, but I've always been under the impression that you could get into admissions rather easily with just a bachelor's degree. That was the case at my alma mater, anyway (which is not the university I work at now). Check the HR sites of universities in your area to see if they're offering jobs and what they're asking for.
posted by srah at 5:46 AM on August 15, 2008

Best answer: I'm not sure if this will be relevant to your specific situation, but I'm a university photographer for a catholic university.

- My work is full time with some nights and weekends (salaried, so no overtime pay)
- I can take graduate and undergraduate classes in the fall.
- Yes, I start my masters this spring.
- BA in photojournalism
- I work year round, but have "summer hours" that give me off on Fridays all summer, and have about 2 weeks off for Christmas.
- Most of the folks that I know who are working in admissions/advising came in with a BA and got the appropriate degrees for advancement through the university as they worked.
posted by rinosaur at 6:18 AM on August 15, 2008

Best answer: I worked in my (small liberal-arts) university's IT department for about 3 years total: part-time while in school as a student worker and then full-time after graduation as a regular staff member doing faculty PC/Mac support. If I don't specify, all this info is about the real staff job:

- Do you work full-time, part-time, overtime?
Full-time, salaried. Overtime not allowed, if you stay late one day (very rare) you can just leave early the next day, take a long lunch, whatever.

- Do you receive the benefit of taking classes for free?
We were allowed 1 class per semester at the university, as well as 1 class per semester at the local community college. The other benefits were a big deal though: Full health insurance, 401(k), good amount of leave, library access, gym access, etc.

- Are you able to avail yourself of that benefit?
I never did, but I blame this on being fresh out of school. My schedule was flexible enough that I probably could have taken a day class and stayed late on those days, but I never got around to it.

- What was your training/history that enabled you to get your position?
As a CompSci major I was referred to the IT department when I was looking for student work. I have a pretty strong amateur background in hardware, so they took me on fixing PC's and hanging projectors. By the time I graduated, I had established myself to the point where I basically walked through the interview for the staff position that had opened up.

- Do you work year-round, or only when school is in session (e.g. is August off, or spring break)?
Year-round, but the summer is sloooow. I think back on the summer that I worked there and I imagine myself in my office sitting in a hammock wearing a straw hat, with a lemonade in my hand, while a lazy banjo tune plays in the background. We worked through the breaks too. We got 1 week for Christmas, but were "strongly encouraged" to use our own leave hours to take a second week.

- Do you know what background/training can lead to positions in admissions or academic advising?
No, sorry.
posted by Who_Am_I at 6:46 AM on August 15, 2008

Best answer: I've worked at a couple of universities, first as a development officer (like parmanparman) and then, after a master's degree and a career change, as a researcher. Both jobs were fulltime year-round and salaried, but with an expectation for overtime and occasional travel. Both came with great benefits having to do with being associated with a major research university.

Working in development, I got fewer perks than academic staff did. I was allowed to take one course per semester, provided I was able to pass entry requirements for that course. Not being a genius, I did not avail myself of this opportunity. However, I regularly attended open lectures given by distinguished faculty, visitors and nobel prize winners. Just kind of basking in the glow of other people's genius. Development work is effectively PR, so the skills required are around communication—writing, presentation and planning. I was able to enter this field with a BA in English. Several people I knew in the development department eventually moved over to admissions and administration once they had gotten to know the university systems and student experience very well. Working in development did not pay particularly well, but it regularly put me in front of influential people and eventually helped me figure out how to steer my career into a new specialty.

As a researcher I technically had many more perks, including as many courses as I wanted to take, provided it didn't interfere with my office hours and duties. But practically speaking I had so much responsibility and time commitments as a researcher, that taking courses was impossible. I really wanted to take advantage of this, and was unable to. The research appointment came directly out of my master's work, and was probably the case of being in the right place at the right time, as my job was never advertised. The research experience was intense, and if I had stayed with it, it might have led to PhD level work. But it would have been unlikely that I would have switched to an administrative job from there. Teaching would have been a more likely jump.
posted by amusebuche at 8:27 AM on August 15, 2008

Best answer: I work at a large state university in the Southeastern US. And here's my info:

Do you work full-time, part-time, overtime?
Full time, 12 month employee, salaried, not eligible for overtime.

Do you receive the benefit of taking classes for free?
Yes, one class a semester (spring, summer 1, summer 2, winter, for a total of four a year), tuition free, plus I cover any lab fees, etc. I was only eligible for this after working for one year. There is no limit to what kind of classes you can take.

Are you able to avail yourself of that benefit?
Yes, in the next year I will have completed my MA at minimal cost to me. Most of my classes are taken in the evening or during the summer when I have time to take them.

What was your training/history that enabled you to get your position?
I had previously gotten my BFA at the department in question. I happened to be friends with some of the staff and faculty where I applied and they put in a good word for me. All my training has been on-the-job.

Do you work year-round, or only when school is in session (e.g. is August off, or spring break)?
Year round, except for the week between Christmas and New Years. Summer is much slower and we have the option of working flex time (four day weeks, etc).

Do you know what background/training can lead to positions in admissions or academic advising?
Well, if you do it as part of your previous university work, you can move into being a full-time advisor, or if you're a faculty, it's part of your job. In my experience, being able to read and know the rules of the university is 10% of it and knowing someone is the other 90% to getting a job in that area. Currently advising is a small part of my job, unofficially, because of our department being understaffed and I'm trying to use that to move into a full-time advisory position.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 10:29 AM on August 15, 2008

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